Troup’s Garner glad to be home
Published 11:16 pm Tuesday, October 29, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
With legendary coach Dariel Daniel leading the way, the Troup High wrestling program enjoyed an extraordinary level of success that included nine team state championships.
One of the men who helped the Tigers achieve that success is Drew Garner, who was on the 1999 and 2001 teams that won it all.
Now, nearly two decades since he wrestled for Daniel, Garner has returned to his alma mater, and he’s hoping to do his former coach proud.
Garner, who led the Heard County Middle School program last season, has taken over as Troup’s head wrestling coach.
While Daniel sadly died in 2013 in a car accident, his legacy lives on, and Garner will put what he learned from his coach and mentor to good use over the next few months.
“We definitely try to keep coach Daniel’s methods and intensity the same,” Garner said. “That’s something you don’t want to change.”
Garner was an assistant coach on his brother Craig Garner’s staff at Troup for four seasons, leading up to a memorable 2017-2018 season that culminated with a third-place finish at the state meet in Macon.
After a season in Heard County, Garner is back home, and he’s looking to help Troup High wrestling return to the status it occupied a few years ago.
There is work to do.
The numbers on the high-school team are down, and Garner expects the Tigers to take their lumps this season, but the coach is bullish on the program’s future.
“We will lose a lot as a varsity boys’ team because we’re so few of numbers this year,” Garner said. “But the ones that are coming back next year will be ready, and we’ve probably got 14 eighth-graders coming in that will be ready.”
Garner’s focus is on making sure the wrestlers that are in the practice room each afternoon are serious about the sport and are focused on becoming the best they can be.
“We may not have another full team, but that’s OK,” Garner said. “I’d rather have five kids that want to work hard and wrestle hard than have 25 kids that don’t work hard.”
It’s a similar situation to what Garner faced when he and his brother began leading the Troup program in 2015.
The proud program was struggling a bit, but Garner felt the pieces were in place for the team to thrive in coming years.
That was certainly the case, with the Tigers finding their way back to elite status, and they earned back-to-back top-five finishes in the state in 2017 and 2018. Two of those wrestlers, Chase Seals and Byron Butts, finished second in the state in 2018.
“We ran up on a good group of kids that wanted to learn,” Garner said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Garner and his coaches led dozens of wrestlers from Troup High and Long Cane Middle School through the paces.
It’s the same wrestling room where Daniel used to guide his young wrestlers, teaching them how to get the best out of themselves.
Garner had a phenomenal high-school career, with three top-three finishes at the state meet while helping the Tigers win two state championships.
Garner, who went on to wrestle at Pensacola Christian College, well remembers those days, and he values the time he had with Daniel, both during high school and after.
Now, all these years later, Garner is following in Daniel’s footsteps as the Troup wrestling coach.
“It’s funny how things come full circle,” Garner said with a grin. “You wrestle under him, and the guy’s your role model, and mentor, and then it’s almost like this is surreal, because now I’m where he was. In my mind, I’m trying to think like he would to put these pieces of the puzzle together, to make it a success.”
Wrestling, Garner believes, can help individuals in so many areas and teach them valuable lessons that will serve them well long after they’ve stopped wearing a singlet.
“It’s unlike any other sport, because it teaches them accountability, and it teaches them how to work hard, and it teaches them self-discipline,” Garner said.
While Garner’s primary focus right now is on getting the best he can out of the high-school wrestlers, he’s also keeping an eye on the larger picture.
It’s with the future in mind that he has invited the Long Cane wrestlers to practice with the high-school team.
Garner is working closely with Long Cane’s first-year coach Zach Cummings, who was a two-time state champion at Fultondale High in Alabama.
“In order to build a solid foundation, it starts with a good feeder program,” Garner said. “When you’re fortunate enough to get a two-time state champion on your staff, and a college coach, to get him to come on board, you definitely want to make things easier on him.”
As far as having all the wrestlers together, Garner said “it’s like a domino effect. You get your high-schoolers in there with your younger guys, and girls, and they start trickling those techniques down earlier. When they learn it earlier, it’s less that we have to teach later.”
Garner also strongly believes in the importance of youth wrestling, and he helped create the Troup Tiger Youth Wrestling organization in 2016.
Garner’s twin daughters Blakely and Riley are both successful youth wrestlers that have won numerous championships.
“Is (middle-school wrestling) important? Absolutely,” Garner said. “It’s even more important to start a good youth program. If you start them at four or five, then we get to middle school, they’ve got all the experience they need.”
Troup opens its season on Nov. 9 in the Alexander Duals.